As switch to online education increases, how can course quality be assured?

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In the wake of COVID-19, the demand for online education has never been greater. Whether by choice or circumstance, courses are increasingly being offered online. But who’s assessing their quality?

Since 2018, the USF College of Public Health (COPH) has adopted the state’s mandate to use Quality Matters (QM) in review of its online courses. QM is a non-profit, membership-based global organization with a faculty-driven peer review process designed to guide and certify the quality of online and blended courses.

“When you see the QM certification mark on courses, it means they have met QM course design standards in a rigorous review process,” said Sandhya Srinivasan, director of the college’s Office of Educational Technology and Assessment (ETA). “The course review process is a collegial discussion between faculty peers committed to quality improvement, and the QM standards are centered on national standards of best practice, the research literature and instructional design principles designed to promote learning.”

According to Srinivasan, all COPH faculty who teach online courses are required to complete the Quality Matters workshop on how to apply the rubric to their courses. The college offered its first workshop in August of 2018. Today, over 65 percent of COPH faculty have completed this training.

One of those is Dr. Donna Haiduven, a COPH associate professor.

Haiduven teaches three online courses within the MPH infection control concentration as well as the graduate certificate in infection control program. One course—Infection Control Program Design—recently went through QM review and received a near-perfect 98 out of 100 score, thanks, in part, to the guidance of Dr. Jung Lim, an instructional multimedia developer with the ETA and one of two QM facilitators for the college. This is the first COPH course that was submitted for QM review. The other two courses are to undergo QM review later this year.

“From a university perspective, I think it’s important to receive external validation,” said Haiduven. “From the viewpoint of prospective students, QM certification communicates a commitment to quality courses and programs. A prospective consumer/student has an option of which course to select, and this certification can influence that decision in a positive way. From my perspective, as an instructor, QM serves as a gold standard framework to model for online instruction. I believe that Quality Matters not only facilitates envisioning the ‘big picture’ for online course instruction, but it assists me in attending to the individual pieces that make up the whole, resulting in more organized and cohesive course design.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health